Counting Butterflies in the Bovey Valley

As we come to the end of the year, and with the butterfly survey season well behind us, there’s a chance to reflect on the survey season and to plan for next year.  Simon Smith, who has written this end of season report, is one of six recorders who walks a set route, or “transect”, in the National Nature Reserve every week from April to the end of September.  In this blog he gives a personal account of the end of this year’s survey season, with some wonderful observations of the butterflies seen on his transect walks in the Bovey Valley.

…“Carrying on my weekly butterfly transect in August was quite a pleasure as the “summer” lived up to its name for once!  Butterfly numbers were usual for the time of year with the activity levels matching the good weather.  The added bonus this year was the influx of painted ladies which seemed to envelop the whole country.  The tale of their mass and long distance migration is well worth reading about, if you are not familiar with it. (See this news article in The Guardian – link to article, and this blog by Butterfly Conservation – link to blog).

Painted lady – Butterfly Conservation saw a big increase in numbers this year, in their ‘Big Butterfly Count’. (Photo: Allan Drewitt/Natural England)

What is quite striking at this time of year, is how much butterflies congregate around blackberry bush flowers, (otherwise known as bramble), and their pollen.  I suppose it’s no great scientific finding, and probably blindingly obvious, but I can always guarantee to spot a good variety of butterflies around these areas.  This is worth noting, as bramble often gets a bad name; this is an example of where bramble is really beneficial for wildlife.

Speckled wood settled on a bramble (Photo: Paul Lacey/Natural England)

What I always love to see are commas, with their ragged bright orange wings fluttering quite high up into the trees. They then settle down on a piece of bracken, or something, and pose for the camera!

The underside of a comma wing – clearly showing the white “comma” shape that gives this butterfly its name (Photo: CharlesJSharp/SharpPhotography)

The one butterfly I haven’t seen this year is the small copper. It’s a beautiful little butterfly with lovely distinctive markings and to be honest, I only normally see it once or twice a year.  The fact I haven’t seen this year doesn’t mean it isn’t there, butterfly transects are very much a weekly “snapshot” of what is present  and so individuals can be easily missed.

Small copper (Photo: Allan Drewitt/Natural England)

30th September marks the end of the transect season and so that’s it until 1st April 2020 for butterfly recording.  With this year’s records sent up to the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, it’s now time to think about planning ahead for next season. Butterflies need light, so this winter around East Dartmoor NNR you will see some management of shade casting trees, such as young holly (with work concentrated around open areas and interlocking tracks). 

Written by Simon Smith, Volunteer Butterfly Recorder

A huge thank you to all the butterfly recorders – Jane, Geoff, John, Rebecca, Janet and Simon – from the NNR team. If you want to get involved in species recording please contact us.

You can read two more blogs from our butterfly recorders here:
Surveying Butterflies – A Report from the Field
Yarner’s Butterfly Transect

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